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Future Warfare Requires Disciplined Disobedience

WASHINGTON (9 May 2017, Army News Service) — Following every order to the
letter is largely understood to be a way of life in the Army. But that may not
always be the best course of action. In fact, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Mark
A. Milley said he expects Soldiers to know when it’s time to disobey an order.

“I think we’re over-centralized, overly bureaucratic, and overly risk-averse,” Milley
said while speaking Thursday at the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C.,
as part of the Atlantic Council Commanders Series.

That overly bureaucratic environment may work in garrison, during peacetime,
he said, but it’s “the opposite of what we are going to need in any type of warfare
— but in particular, the warfare I envision.”


During last year’s Association of the U.S. Army symposium in October, Milley
laid out just exactly what his vision of future warfare would be. He said then he
expects conditions “will be extremely austere. Water, chow, ammo, fuel,
maintenance and medical support will be all that we should plan for.”

He also said that Soldiers could expect to be surrounded all the time, so they
will always need to be on the move if they hope to stay alive.

“In short, learning to be comfortable with being seriously miserable every single
minute of every single day will have to become a way of life for an Army on the
battlefield that I see coming,” he said.

Leaders on the battlefield could expect to be out of contact with their own
leadership for significant periods of time. Those officers would still need to
accomplish their commander’s objectives, even when the conditions on the
battlefield have changed and they are unable to send word up the chain of

“We are going to have to empower [and] decentralize leadership to make
decisions and achieve battlefield effects in a widely dispersed environment where
subordinate leaders, junior leaders … may not be able to communicate to their
higher headquarters, even if they wanted to,” Milley said.

In that environment, Milley said, the Army will need a cadre of trusted leaders on
the battlefield who know when it’s time to disobey the original orders they were
given and come up with a new plan to achieve the purpose of those orders.


“We’re the military, so you’re supposed to say, ‘Obey your orders,’” Miley said.
“That’s kind of fundamental to being in the military. We want to keep doing that.
But a subordinate needs to understand that they have the freedom and they are
empowered to disobey a specific order, a specified task, in order to accomplish
the purpose. It takes a lot of judgment.”

Such disobedience cannot be “willy-nilly.” Rather, it must be “disciplined
disobedience to achieve a higher purpose,” Milley said. “If you do that, then you
are the guy to get the pat on the back.”

Milley said that when orders are given, the purpose of those orders must also be
provided so that officers know both what they are to accomplish and how they
are expected to accomplish it.

To illustrate his point, Milley offered the example of an officer who has been
ordered to seize “Hill 101″ as part of a larger battle plan.

“I’ve said the purpose is to destroy the enemy,” Milley said. “And the young
officer sees Hill 101, and the enemy is over on Hill 102. What does he do? Does
he do what I told him to do, seize Hill 101? Or does he achieve the purpose,
destroy the enemy, on Hill 102?”

The answer, Milley said, is that the officer disobeys the order to seize the first hill
because following that order would not achieve his commander’s purpose.
Instead, he takes the other hill.

“And he shouldn’t have to call back and say ‘hey boss … can I go over to 102?’
He shouldn’t have to do that,” Milley said. “They should be empowered and feel
they have freedom of maneuver to achieve the purpose.”

Right now, Milley said, the Army already has doctrine that describes what he
envisions for the future: “mission command” doctrine. Part of that doctrine, he
said, instructs commanders to tell their subordinates the purpose of what they
are doing. “That’s important for subordinates to understand the why, the
purpose,” he said.

But the Army, he said, has a hard time practicing what it writes into doctrine.

“My point is, what we do in practice is we micromanage and over-specify
everything a subordinate has to do, all the time, in regulations, in ALARACT
messages, in rules,” he said. “That is not an effective way … to fight. Not an
effective way to conduct operations. You will lose battles and wars if you
approach warfare like that.”

“We must trust our subordinates,” he added. “You give them the task, you give
them the purpose, and then you trust them to execute and achieve your intent,
your desired outcome — your purpose.”

Getting Soldiers and leaders to do that will require training, he said. And it will
require encouraging them to operate that way.

“You have to train to it, you have to prepare for it, and you have to live it and do
it every day,” he said.

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